BY TIFFANY RONEY
Covered in camouflage and wielding their weapons, several SWAT team members filed into the 18th century house. They took to the stairs in strategic formation and explored the bedrooms in pairs in trios. Their techniques were the same as those used in hostage situations and the raiding of drug houses and meth labs. This invasion, though, was a series of training scenarios for the team to sharpen its skills.
An invasion extends a bridge
Thad Jones, team leader of Junction City Police Department SWAT, said Abilene Police Department helped the SWAT team acquire an armored truck it used for shuttling supplies to the site.
“To show our support of them, we come over here to train and let everybody know that we’re available to come assist with any emergency situations there may be,” Jones said.
In the past, Abilene police and Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department have called on Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Bureau of Investigators for assistance with raids. Jones, who is an Abilene resident, said he wanted to encourage the local and county departments to call on the SWAT team instead for faster results.
“We could have been there in less than a third of the time they could have,” Jones said. “So, this is to extend that bridge for the aid that we can provide to them, all the way over to Salina.”
Jones, who is an Abilene resident, said the SWAT team is available to serve Abilene, Enterprise, Chapman and the surrounding area, all the way east to the Kansas-Missouri border.
The house the members chose
“The most challenging thing about doing these drills is that you really want to find a house that you can use that’s unique, because you want unique situations,” Matthew Binko, general manager of Quantico Tactical in Junction City, said. Binko’s store supplied the team with industrial-strength tools for the raid.
“You don’t want a basic vanilla floor plan,” Binko said. “You want to be challenged, because you want to make the mistakes in training so you don’t make those mistakes in real life.”
Abilene Police Chief Mark Heimer acquired the house, 1306 Campbell Street, for the training scenario. Jones said the structure fit the bill for the team’s needs.
He said he appreciated the varied architecture of the house’s stairwells and multiple rooms. The team took advantage of the older house because it was indigenous to the area. Additionally, he said the floor plan allowed the team to practice different training tactics than those afforded by more modern layouts.
Training toward teamwork and trust
Binko said teamwork was the most important part of the training scenario, especially since the team members were relatively new to working with each other.
He said safety was also a precaution, as each member carried at least two guns, and some also packed other types of lethal and non-lethal weapons. As a partner to safety, Binko said each team member needed to know where his or her “buddy” was at all times, whether he or she was in the same room or in another part of the house.
“If you let a round go off, yeah, he might not be in that room, he might be in the next room, and that round could go through a wall and easily hit him,” Binko said. “So, it’s all about communication. It’s all about training, getting to know each other and everybody’s idiosyncrasies.”
Mareleann Hewins, police officer of Junction City Police Department, said every day on the team is a learning experience.
On the front porch of the house, during a break between scenarios, Hewins said the training day started with Jones assessing the situation. Much like the captain of a football team, Jones then gave the SWAT team direction on how to infiltrate the house. In each scenario, the members carried out their leader’s direction until the entire house had been cleared.
Hewins said the team planned to continue running scenarios through the house all day Thursday, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
“Right now, it’s just getting that cohesion you need to be able to anticipate your buddy’s next move,” Binko said. “Instead of hoping they have your back, it’s knowing they have your back.”